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Sea Plankton by Richard Kirby – published in The Guardian

It was the choking sea plankton that got me.

The topic for Suburban Growing is gardening: growing your own food in suburbia, and tangentially health. During this off-season, while our gardens rest peacefully covered in leaves (that’s the goal and I’m confessing nothing) and snow, we have an opportunity to address larger issues associated growing and eating food.

Issues such as Microplastics, a term I had never heard before I caught part of a radio broadcast last November. I have always disliked plastic (ask my family), but the idea that tiny filaments from clothing are contaminating our water was news. As I digested the unwelcome implications with my holiday meals, I did more research and tried to check facts.

I admit to being an easy target for this topic. Useful tho it is, I distrust plastic because of its inability to be part of the cycle of life: zombie-like, the material may get hacked up, but it never dies. Bits fall to earth or ocean floor, never decomposing, never becoming nourishment for another species.  Hopefully everyone knows about the island of plastic that floats in the Pacific Ocean  – whoops, no, there are two. (National Geographic 2017, Research Gate, July 19, 2017).  And have you heard about the massive stalactite formed of plastic bag material that descends far far below the surface of the ocean, filling caves there? Google “mountainous piles of indigestible trash” and you will find more than you ever wanted to see (Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2016). Did you know that we outsource our RECYCLING to China??  Now, there’s an environmental solution!  And you might have seen footage of small chucks of plastics and glitter swirling across ocean floors, where hungry fish fill their guts with it.  (Fish Love Plastic, Washington Post, Sept 2017)

Daugopan, Phillipines, photo by OrbMedia

Well, I knew about all those horrors. But I did not know about MICROPLASTICS.

Microplastics are invisible shards or filaments which break off every time we wash our rayon, nylon, lycra, orlon, __ (fill in the man-made-fiber blank) clothing. Wastewater plants have never been set up to capture these tiny particles. They just cycle round again, concentrations growing greater, I assume, with every passing year.

Ever since humans have been styling in synthetic fashions, camping with synthetic gear, shampooing synthetic carpets, etc, we have been shedding these little particles onto land and into all waterways. Water tested around the world by OrbMedia found plastic filaments in different dilutions around the world:

From the halls of the U.S. Capitol to the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda, women, children, men, and babies are consuming plastic with every glass of water” (Invisibles, by OrbMedia)

A separate study done by the Republic of  Ireland found microplastics in Irish well water (The Guardian, Sept 5, 2017). Our buddy the sea plankton at the top of the page is choking on a single filament that extends thru his entire microscopic body, as photographed by . And he is one of 1000s that scientist Richard Kirby has seen expiring in just this way (Invisibles, by OrbMedia).

All this means that while I have been trying to eliminate a plastic bag here or there, avoid plastic wrap, tote my drinking water in a reuseable bottle, nevertheless I have been bathing, drinking, and eating invisible plastic particles all my life. Very likely my body tissues are full of it.

OK, so what, you say. Enviro-hysteria. 

So this: plastic is considered to have estrogen mimicking potential. Of course I would think that, given my prejudices against the stuff. But the NIH says most plastics leach chemicals. (NIH report, July 2011). False estrogen, that is plastic acting like the hormone our bodies make, has been associated with “breast cancer, ovarian cancer  ADD, and the feminization of the male species,” I learned from NPR. While the right to choose one’s own gender is a hot topic these days, from the scientific standpoint you must have a female and a male in any species to allow it to continue – hence the concern. No two sexes, no new life.  (NPR broadcast, Plastics are Forever, Nov 1, 2017).  SO even if the plight of our buddy the sea plankton (foundation of the oceanic food chain) does not move you, the reality of pervasive breast cancer may. It does me.

Damn.

What about water filters? Can a Brita remove microplastics? It seems so – but don’t quote me.

So then, what is the cure? Rethink all synthetic garments, and or don’t wash them? How can we really resist the convenience that so many plastic products provide?  Think how even though our taps run water that we can filter ourselves, even though we know (sort of) how much trouble it will be to clean up each and every single-serve water bottle, we still buy them. After my research, watching people load up on CASES of water bottles at the grocery store before New Years Eve was torture. I wanted run after them pleading STOPPPPP! (One of my New Year’s resolutions is guerilla-water-bottle labeling! “Dont Buy!! Plastic is Cancer Causing!!”

Remember that it isn’t just the clothing microplastics that you are ladling into your body with every bite and sip. Every food or drink item that sits in plastic picks up some plastic from that contact, especially if heated in plastic.  I have always thought this, but in researching for this post I came across this in an article from WebMD:

It’s long been known that infinitesimal bits of plastic get into our food from containers. The process is called ‘leaching’ or ‘migration.’ The chemical industry acknowledges that you can’t avoid this transfer (…) almost any plastic container can be expected to leach trace amounts of plastics into food.

Whew!

Well, this wasn’t a cozy post to curl up by the fireside with – next time, I promise.  I hope you not only read the piece, but share it, and that it galvanizes you to action!  Let’s get creative! How can we re-see our modern world without plastics? Let the stores you patronize know if you want them to abandon plastics, or even that you will not buy from them unless they find other ways to transport and present goods to the marketplace. Make choices for your long term health, and mine. And our grandchildren’s.

I gave you a lot of sources to check. If you are going to only look at ONE, let it be this video: How Dangerous is Your Drinking Water?